Two weeks with a Kindle 3

I have a Kindle 3 (wifi only). Here’s what I think about it after two weeks. I should say that I have absolutely no interest in reading eBooks bought from Amazon on it. What interests me is the ability to read newspapers and academic articles on it.

+ Size, weight and general form are good. Feels nice to hold. I also have the leather case for it, but it doubles the weight and is awkward to hold so I only use it when the Kindle is shoved into my bag.

+ The screen is excellent for reading text in the .mobi and native amazon format. I appreciate the ability to change the font size more than I imagined I would and have found myself wishing that I could change the font size on print books now. The screen appears sharper the more light that is shining on it (i.e. daylight) but is unreadable in poor light/darkness (much like a book).

– Despite the screen being the main strength of the Kindle, looking at a grey scale screen still feels like a distinct step backwards. I’m reminded of using my mid-90s laptop. Page turns/screen refreshes are about as fast as turning a page in a print book, which sounds satisfactory but the experience is all wrong. Page turns are clearly visible screen refreshes/flashes.

– The speed of the device feels retrograde. My touch screen phone feels faster despite having roughly the same 500MHz processor speed.

+ Having said that, from an engineering point of view, the device is apparently a thing of beauty. I can appreciate that.

– The screen is poor for reading A4 sized PDF files. It’s just not big enough and the font on a full page view is too small. On landscape mode, it is better but requires lots of button pressing to scroll through the text and is generally not worth the bother because…

+ You can email .doc and .pdf files (and other text formats) to your or email address and Amazon will immediately send you a nicely formatted conversion of the PDF to your device.

+ Feedbooks is a nice way to get out of copyright (i.e. classics) books on the Kindle for free.

– All content is homogenized to become ‘Kindle Content’. Newspapers, books, articles, whatever they originally might have looked like, become the same standardised text on the screen, surrounded by a dull graphite border. I tried to tell myself that it strips away the fluff to reveal the true essence of the book/newspaper/article, but I find the experience of reading otherwise creatively designed content (i.e. a newspaper) on the Kindle quite dispiriting. Even images become washed out and gray. Thankfully, for academic papers, it doesn’t matter so much because they tend to include little more than text in the first place.

+ The battery life is excellent. Over a week with wifi turned on all the time. Apparently a month if turned off, but that’s not how I use it.

– The 3.0 software was very unstable and the device froze regularly. However…

+ The 3.0.1 software upgrade fixes any software issues I experienced.

-/+ The browser is OK. Mobile sites are bearable. I would usually choose using my touch screen phone to browse the web over the Kindle. Web browsing on a slow device with a black and white screen isn’t much fun. However, the ‘Article Mode’ option, which is based on the same idea as Readability, is a nice touch and makes reading a long article a pleasure. Better than using my phone or my laptop or PC. I was already in the habit of saving long print view versions of articles on the web to PDF for reading and now I can email them to my Kindle to read or browse to the web page on the Kindle itself.

-/+ The keyboard is OK. I wish there were keys for numbers. Initially I found the keyboard awkward and navigation around the device and content, a hassle. I’ve got used to it and it’s beginning to make sense to me now. It’s no match for touch screen navigation on the iPhone or Android phones though. The keyboard buttons make a noise so it’s irritating if you’re in a quiet room (i.e. reading in bed with your partner).

– It’s linked to my Amazon account and so it’s yet another device I have to password protect.  I hate the fact that I have to login to the device just to read something.

– The annotation and sharing features are very basic. You can make notes on selected text using the fiddly keyboard but it’s no match whatsoever for the convenience of scribbling in the margins with a pencil. Sharing to Twitter simply tweets a note and link to some selected text on an Amazon web page. I would much prefer a ‘share by email’ feature, like I have on my phone, so I could send myself or others, annotated text by email.

– I wish I had the 3G version. There are times when logging into wifi or having no wifi at all is a minor inconvenience. I thought I’d be able to tether it to my phone but the Kindle wifi won’t work with enterprise/P2P wifi networks. Given the cost, I would trade the leather case for the addition of 3G.

+ Calibre is a fantastic bit of open source software for creating newspapers and delivering them to your device. I have it set up so that my laptop at home wakes at 6am, opens Calibre, downloads three newspapers and sends them to my Kindle ready for when I wake up at 6.30ish. The papers are nicely formatted, with images, and easy to read on the way to work. This somewhat makes up for the complaint about homogenized content I mentioned above. You can pay for Amazon to deliver newspapers to you, too, but by most accounts I’ve seen, they are poorly presented and expensive compared to the print editions. Why bother when Calibre does it for you (and much more)?

– I haven’t used the text-to-speech feature yet. The music player on it is very basic. It’s like using an iPod Shuffle. Stop, start, forward, backwards.

– Already having a smart phone, iPod Touch, home laptop, work laptop and work desktop, the Kindle is an improvement in some areas (straight forward reading of natively formatted text), but is yet another device to throw in my bag. I was sat at a conference recently with my phone, laptop and Kindle all at hand, feeling like a bit of an idiot.

11 Replies to “Two weeks with a Kindle 3”

  1. There are shortcut keys for numbers on the Kindle 3. Use Alt+Q for 1, Alt+W for 2 … Alt+O for 9, Alt+P for 0.

    You can turn off the device password in the settings. Mine was turned off by default when I got it. I love that I can just pick it up, switch it on and read. A bit like a book. Apart from the switching on bit.

    Nice tips about both the upgrade and Calibre. I’m going to check those out.

    1. Thanks for the tip about shortcut keys, Gareth. I turned the password protection on. Any online account I have that has my credit card attached to it, is password protected – the Kindle is no different.

  2. This is very useful to me. I’m working on an e-reader project and as part of that we will be looking at new products and Kindle 3 is one of them. We are trialling the Sony Touch e-reader (PRS-600) and find we have the same issues as you regarding the 6” screen being poor for reading A4-size pdf.

    I’d be interested to know how the Kindle (or the Amazon conversion) copes with Tables in pdfs. It is a problem we have come across with the Sony e-reader when we use the magnify function, which is often necessary to make the Table legible. There is no satisfactory method for magnifying the Table and retaining the original format (limitations recognised by Sony).

    1. Mary, if you send me a PDF with tables in it, I’ll let you know how the conversion works out. So far, I have found it to be pretty good. Occasionally there are alignment problems with some text ending up on the wrong line, but on the whole, you get well formatted conversions – certainly useful enough to read and understand.

  3. Good point about the credit card issue Joss, I hadn’t thought of that. D’oh!

    I haven’t tried it yet, but with the Kindle you can email PDF documents to your Kindle email address and they’ll be converted to Kindle format. That would be useful to test too.

    I’m loving the 3.0.2 update too — my Kindle hasn’t crashed once with it, whereas it crashed 6-7 times on the first day with the initial version 3.0.

    1. I use the PDF conversion via the email address on a daily basis and pick them up over wifi. It does a reasonable job of converting PDFs – better than using Calibre. Footnotes and other oddities can show up in strange places, but on the whole they are readable. The native PDF viewer works OK if you read in landscape mode, adjust the contrast a bit and are prepared to only read half pages at a time. Stability since 3.0.1 has been perfect for me, too.

  4. I’ve only had my Kindle a couple of weeks now, but I’m pretty clear that it works best as an ‘e-book’ reader and not an ‘e-reader’ per se.

    For reading fiction and factual books it seems to be a good experience. The engineering, the weight and handlability are definitely good. The fact that I could comfortably hold it in one hand on the train yesterday, made it easier than reading a real book! It has taken me a while to stop trying to press the screen though.

    And its that lack of a touch screen and colour along that mean for me it will always be limited in its use – I can’t imagine it would work well for textbooks, and I think the article reading experience will be compromised by the small screen.

    The question has to be will the iPAD and similar devices get light enough to be as easily portable as the print equivalents – and with enough battery life to challenge the Kindle.

    In the Library we’re keen to explore if these devices can help to liberate ‘e-resources’ from the fixed PC, but I don’t think we’re there yet!

    1. Yes, the handling of the Kindle 3 is excellent. I’m finding it a pleasure to hold and read from the screen for straight forward text (books/long articles in native format). It is a shame that they can’t do more with PDFs, such as reflow the text to fit the screen in portrait mode. PDF’s have embedded text that can be stripped out, as is possible using Adobe Reader. I’d like to see the Kindle ‘extract’ the text from PDFs in the same way and display them in the same way that books are displayed, with the same options for resizing text, text to speech, etc.

      Power/weight/features/price are in constant tension with one another as we can see from the history of laptops. I don’t suppose it will be any different with e-book readers and tablet computers.

  5. One of these is on my wishlist, but I haven’t yet tried one out and so this list is really helpful. I would primarily want to use it for reading academic journal articles as A4 PDFs, so your caveat about these is helpful, may make me think twice (good, as I can’t really afford it anyway!)

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